“Separation is such a sweet sorrow” – West Side Rag

Larry Boes has been the head gardener of Shakespeare Garden in Central Park for 15 years.

Text by Margie Smith Holt
Photographs by Jane Feldman

To matters we love, we get up on time,
And go with delight.
-William Shakespeare

The bard may have been referring to Larry Boes when he wrote these words. For the past 15 years, the Central Park Conservancy’s head gardener has gone to work in what may well be New York’s finest office, Central Park’s Shakespeare Garden, transforming it into a work of art worthy of its namesake. . .

Bronze plaques adorn the garden, matching colorful displays with the Shakespeare quotes that inspired them.

“I grew up on a farm in Iowa. So I guess it’s always been in my blood,” Boes said.

Boes studied art, worked as a colorist for a wallpaper company, and did interior design in Chicago before finally landing in New York in the 1970s where, among other artistic endeavors, he created displays for Macy’s. Then, in 2005, he volunteered to help with “The Gates,” a massive public art installation in Central Park.

“I was one of those people who turned the panels over to straighten them for Christo and Jeanne-Claude. And I loved being in the park.

Boes had found his new career. He went to work for the Conservancy and, having no formal training in horticulture, “started at the bottom”, picking up trash and mowing lawns. Then a gardener’s job opened.

“And I had the nerve to apply!” Boes said

A Lily Landini. The Shakespeare Garden has been a haven for New Yorkers for over a century.

He worked for a short time under a supervisor, but it didn’t take long for his talents to be recognized. Eventually, he ran the show.

“It took me two years to really understand,” he said. “I didn’t want to dig it all up and start over. I wanted it to be something scalable. And I think I did.

The four-acre Shakespeare Garden is over 100 years old and meanders along winding paths in the shadow of the Delacorte Theater and Belvedere Castle. Today it is awash with gorgeous touches of Boes, changing with the seasons and from year to year. Annuals, perennials and so many bulbs. Vibrantly colored rotating displays that are beautiful to behold, but also attractive to birds and bees, hummingbirds and butterflies.

“It’s kind of a crazy English garden where everything blends together,” he says.

Shakespeare mentioned some 200 plants and flowers in his works, but omitted annuals, such as this Begonia Grandis.

Shakespeare mentions some 200 different plants and flowers in his works, many of which are depicted in the garden: daffodils “which come before the swallow dares, and take the winds of March with beauty” (The Winter’s Tale); thoughts “for thoughts” (Hamlet); and, of course, roses, which “under any other name would smell as good” (Romeo and Juliet). Old William forgot about annuals, however. No zinnias, for example. Or begonias.

“So I kind of take the liberty,” Boes said. “You know. The garden must be beautiful.

Boes shares the credit with all the volunteers he has worked with over the years.

“I really depended on volunteers to help with everything: planting bulbs, weeding, simply put. They are the most remarkable people there are because they give of their time. They learn. And we really grew – you know, bonded – together.

Flower paparazzi capture a beautiful display of tulips by senior gardener Larry Boes.

“Incredible” is how Boes describes his tenure in the Garden, which ended on September 30. He just turned 72, and it’s time to hand over the pruning shears to someone new while he figures out what to grow next in his own life. He has a (lucky) niece with a home upstate, so he’ll design a garden for her, but the rest remains to be seen.

“A garden is tomorrow,” one of Shakespeare Garden’s regular visitors would always say, a philosophy that Larry embraces.

“It’s so true,” he said. “It’s about what you’re looking forward to. What comes next. Even as winter approaches, you put everything to sleep and mulch things, and it looks like it’s quiescent. And that’s one of the most enjoyable times, I think, in the garden, because he’s watching what’s going to happen next.

If you haven’t visited the Shakespeare Garden lately, stop by. Larry’s legacy lives on in the design, the perennials and the bulbs that will take on color in the spring. And right now, the asters are in bloom.

Much of the flora in Shakespeare’s Garden is planted to attract wildlife, like these monarch butterflies, enjoying New England asters.

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